Category Archives: Budget

Blog: Will We Have a Clean Budget or Poison Pills?

Will We Have a Clean Budget or Poison Pills?

By Sister Marge Clark
June 27, 2016

Both the House and the Senate are working their way through funding bills (appropriations) for fiscal year 2017, which begins on October 1, 2016. Unfortunately, they are muddling through without the benefit of a budget that would allocate the amount of funding for each of the twelve areas of annual discretionary spending. This is because members of the House remain divided on what the overall spending amount should be: abide by the Bipartisan Budget Agreement signed by House and Senate in late 2015, or spend less—breaking yet another agreement. This disagreement opens the door for amendments that will benefit some special interest groups and limit spending on our common needs.

House Republicans often use this chaos to add things – whether it be harmful cuts to government assistance programs, or eligibility restrictions—that are undesirable or even irrelevant to the bills at hand. We refer to such amendments as “poison pill” riders. They ride on the bill, often without discussion or a separate vote. Examples of this include addition of work requirements for those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or drug testing to receive housing assistance. These added strategies further devastate the hopes of people trying to live in dignity and improve the status of their family.

NETWORK’s Mend the Gap principles and policy recommendations promote legislation that will allow families to live in greater dignity and move to a more stable position in their community. NETWORK Lobby is working to keep these “poison pill” riders from damaging the legislation necessary to ensure sufficient housing and healthcare and to protect workers and their families.

Last year, as the spending bills were rolled into an “omnibus” package to be voted on as a single bill, advocacy groups were successful in keeping poison pill riders off the package. We worked with one voice across very divergent groups, because we all see the potential damage to our communities. Now, the fight is more difficult because we have to fight riders on each individual spending bill. It takes more time to study and analyze each individual bill, and it takes more awareness of issues other than our own greatest concerns. But together, we fight on.

So far this year we have been successful in the Senate. There have been very few poison riders introduced. But, there are many bills to go. In the House, there is a constant need to watch what amendments are proposed, and to demand that members consider the implications of each of these amendments on the good of all the people, not just a privileged few. The further into the appropriations season we get – and the closer to the election – the more danger there is of amendments cutting assistance to people who are vulnerable. NETWORK Lobby continues to work for clean legislation for our nation’s spending priorities.

Pope Francis’ Impact on the Catholic vote in 2016

Commentary: Pope Francis’ Impact on the Catholic vote in 2016

By Simone Campbell, SSS
May 5, 2016

When the Bernie Sanders campaign announced plans to visit the Vatican, more than one journalist asked me for comment on the oddity of a progressive candidate seeking to associate himself with an institution whose views are antithetical to much of what he espouses. This, I believe, is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the majority of Catholics in America view the role of their faith in their political and civic life. Call it the Pope Francis effect. It is real and, because Catholics are the preeminent swing voters, it will matter a great deal.

In this, the first presidential election in the era of Pope Francis, attempts to control the “Catholic vote” through issues of personal sexuality – often nothing more than a crass political calculation – will no longer work as well, if at all. Instead, those who seek to divide our nation will find themselves up against a spiritual leader who has taken the teachings of our faith that have resided for many in the dusty tomes of Catholic scholarship and philosophy and made them breathing realities in our daily lives. In doing so, he has energized Catholics to embody the center of our faith – active concern for the common good and attention to the needs of those around us.

And then he has taken this sacred work a step further. The pope has reminded our elected leaders and all of us that individuals, churches, and communities, while vital to the work of taking care of each other, cannot be expected to do it all alone. The work of ending the vast disparities of wealth and opportunity in America and around the world can only be accomplished by implementation of policies on a grand scale, a political scale – a tax policy under which everyone and every corporation pays its fair share and all employers pay their workers a living wage; policies that encourage a “family-friendly workplace,” recognizing that the economy is at the service of workers, not the other way around.

This call has not been the least bit coy or veiled. In his speech before Congress in 2015, Francis told our elected officials, “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all of its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.”

The pope’s words have clearly broken through to the professional political class, though whether it is through their hearts as well as their talking points, I leave to others to decide. For proof, look at House Speaker Paul Ryan’s public apology for his past rhetoric blaming the poor for their own poverty. Were Ryan to also publicly recognize, for example, that his mea culpa did not go far enough, and that the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid to those who are most vulnerable is a pro-life position, perhaps the transformation would be more believable.

Ultimately, though, Francis recognizes that politicians are essentially stand-ins for the rest of us. It is the electorate who must heed the call to become politically active. It is up to us to recognize that in the wealthiest nation the world has ever known, the fact that there is still a vast difference in life expectancy between the rich and the poor is a collective wrong that we have a moral obligation to make right.

Hence the pope’s repeated calls for Catholics to “meddle in politics,” his repeated calls to, yes, feed and house and meet basic human needs from our parishes, but also to go out into the world and call for, vote for, big change – a reformed immigration policy that recognizes and embraces the dignity of our brothers and sisters, regardless of where they happened to be born; national spending priorities that recognize the need for safe, affordable housing as greater than the excitement over a newer, faster, deadlier weapon of war.

While Catholics do not vote as a single bloc, they are nonetheless a renowned bellwether in the political world, having voted for the winner of the popular vote, with one exception, in every presidential election since Roosevelt.

This year will not be different. When the chattering class analyzes the “Catholic vote,” as it will inevitably do – both before and after the primary and general elections – it will find that in this year of mercy, our votes stretched far beyond our self-interest and to the common good, that we turned out and voted for the needs of those who are most often left out of our care. We will be called the “Pope Francis voters.”

Originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Blog: Over 500,000 Adults will Lose Assistance to Keep Food on the Table

Over 500,000 Adults will Lose Assistance to Keep Food on the Table

Mary McClure
February 16, 2016

In a matter of months, over half a million people living on the margins will no longer receive a critical tool to help them get enough to eat each day.

This year, 23 states are implementing a time limit on how long certain individuals can receive food assistance thorough the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program. It responds quickly to changes in the economy, and serves families, individuals, children, older adults, and people with disabilities. While the majority of households that receive SNAP benefits have a person who is working, a portion of the population either cannot work or face barriers to meaningful employment.

Catholic Social Justice calls us to uphold the dignity of each person as an equally valuable member of the human family. Because of each person’s essential dignity, everyone has a right to all that is needed to allow her or him to reach full potential. This particularly applies to basic needs, including food. Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Jesus taught his disciples to pray by asking the Heavenly Father not for “my” but for “our” daily bread. Thus, he desired every person to feel co-responsible for his [or her] brothers [and sisters] so that no one would want for what he [or she] needs in order to live. The earth’s produce forms a gift which God has destined ‘for the entire human family’” (Angelus, 2006).* [1] l

Our shared responsibility for our sisters and brothers is precisely why we are so alarmed that approximately half a million Americans will lose eligibility for SNAP benefits.

The people at risk for SNAP time limits are able-bodied adults without minor children. These are some of our nation’s most vulnerable members; research from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) indicates they are a very poor, diverse, and underserved group. Because of low education and skill levels, many enter in and out of work in low-paying jobs that do not lift them out of poverty, while others experience deep poverty or chronic homelessness. These individuals are eligible for few safety net programs while they are employed and almost none for when they are not.

While the population doesn’t fit in any specific category, we know some information about the people who will be affected:

  • 45% are women, 55% are men
  • About 30% are over 40 years old
  • About half are white, a third are African American, and a tenth are Hispanic
  • They live across metro status: 41% suburban, 39% urban, and 21% rural

The time limit provision, part of the 1996 welfare law, restricts these people to three months of SNAP benefits during any 36-month period if they are not employed or in a work training program for at least 20 hours a week. Many states enacted waivers to this limit during the recession and following years due to the limited availability of jobs, but as the economy recovers, the waivers are expiring.

It is essential to note this policy is not a work requirement—it’s a time limit. This law does not require states to offer employment or job training to people who are unable to find a job, and does not provide funding for this purpose. Many states have few or no work or training programs. SNAP recipients who do not find a job, despite looking for work and a willingness to work, will still lose their benefits after three months.

Currently, it is unlikely that Congress will act to protect this group, but there are steps that states can take. States can and should waive the time limit in areas of the state still struggling with high unemployment. They should also ensure that they are not applying the time limit to exempted individuals, including many who are experiencing homelessness. Finally, states must do what they can to provide job training services to people who will be impacted so these people can continue to receive the help they need to get enough to eat and gain the skills needed to secure employment.

At NETWORK, our faithful response to food policy discussion is to ensure all people have their basic nutrition needs met. We remember the words of Pope Francis, who said “The planet has enough food for all, but it seems that there is a lack of willingness to share it with everyone” (Homily, 2015). [2] It is wrong to impose a time limit on this safety net program, especially when adequate resources are not provided to ensure employment for a very vulnerable group. It is wrong that in the wealthiest nation on earth, people still go hungry. We must continue to bring faithful voices and attention to the problem to our friends and neighbors.

For a more in-depth look at SNAP time limits, please visit the report from CBPP.

*Quote adapted with brackets for gender inclusivity

Blog: A Message from Sister Marge Clark about the Federal Budget

Marge Clark, BVM
Dec 16, 2015

Blog: A Message from Sister Marge Clark about the Federal Budget

Dear NETWORK Members and Friends,

There is GREAT excitement today!

The Omnibus text, which details FY 2016 federal spending, was published just after midnight this morning and much to our relief and joy the proposed “Poison Pill” riders did not materialize. We worked with hundreds of organizations in a “No Riders” coalition that later transitioned to “No Poison Pill Riders,” as the time of appropriators’ decisions came near. This happened because we all recognized that there would be some riders in the budget – as negotiation points for both parties. We defined poison pill riders as policies that would damage the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), target immigrants and immigrant families, and hurt the environment, among other important issues.

With other members of the coalition, NETWORK participated in a fun activity last week to communicate our “No Poison Pills” message to House and Senate offices. We made a special delivery to each office: a pill vial with a warning label about the dangers of policy riders and a letter about the demands we were making – all accompanied by a “prescription” for not being harmed by the pills.

We also engaged with you, our NETWORK members and friends, on social media and with requests for calls and emails to House and Senate members over the last few weeks on this important issue. And I want to say congratulations to all of you! These efforts paid off!

Those most disconcerting riders are NOT included in the omnibus.  We have avoided the fear of riders on the budget that would curtail the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by a demand for a change in structure and authority, ones that would create more barriers for our immigrants and refugee brothers and sisters, and ones that would significantly roll back environmental protections. Instead, we are able to focus on the primary work of this legislation: setting the funding levels for government agencies and programs in the coming year.

Thank you all for the great advocacy!!

With Gratitude,Poison Pills_0

Sr. Marge Clark, BVM

Blog: Putting People First in Our Budget Crisis

Blog: Putting People First in Our Budget Crisis

Rachel Schmidt
Oct 13, 2015

The federal budget is a complicated piece of legislation, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. “Wonky” data, words like “sequestration,” and polarized political parties are enough to make anyone’s eyes glaze over. However, the budget is not merely something elected officials tend to busy themselves with. It is essential to bring about the common good, the development and fulfillment of all people in society, by creating a faithful budget.

Too often in budget negotiations, Congress neglects to bring forth the faces and stories of people who are intimately affected by cuts to human needs programs. It’s easy to get lost in the ideology of politics and deficit reduction, but like Pope Francis insists, “service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.” Therefore, it is critical that we do not lose sight of the real issue:  the federal budget is a tool that must faithfully serve the common good.

The political landscape has made finalization of the federal budget difficult. Initially, the fear was that sequestration would take place. Sequestration means that programs, both on the defense and non-defense discretionary sides of the budget, are automatically cut once previously established budget limits are reached. In theory, sequestration was supposed to be too horrible to go into effect, but in reality, the threat of this austerity measure is becoming more commonplace. In recent years budget negotiations have led to the government shutting down, programs being stopped, and government workers not being paid. It’s these political games that endanger the wellbeing of people in the most vulnerable situations, who rely on safety net programs funded from the non-defense discretionary side of the budget.

Congress had a deadline to approve the Fiscal Year 2016 budget by September 30 in order to keep the government fully operational for the next year. They did not actually come to a final decision by this time. Instead, they passed what’s called a Continuing Resolution (CR) to provide short-term funding through December 11 and put off addressing the real issue of planning for the next fiscal year. Now, as the December deadline approaches, we must be diligent in requiring Congress to commit to funding a faithful budget that serves the common good.

Again, it’s important to remember that a budget is about more than just numbers; it’s about people. To learn more about how this affects real people, watch these two stories from our friends at Witnesses to Hunger:

This story of Jahzaire Sutton shows the stress and impact budget negotiations can have on small children. It is unbelievable that in the United States a mother has to go hungry so her children can eat. Cuts to the program, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) could be disastrous for families like Jahzaire’s. Since 2010, WIC has been cut 17.4%.

Jahzaire’s mother is already skipping meals. Do we want Jahzaire and his younger siblings to go hungry too? As a society, are we willing to do what it takes for the future of our children? When Congress makes a commitment to providing for the common good, people like Jahzaire’s mother won’t have to go hungry anymore.

This story of Tianna Gaines Turner shows how a family could rely upon several programs funded by the government due to economic hardship or medical needs. Cuts across the board can mean that Tianna’s family won’t have access to as many resources for health, utilities, and food, which are necessary for day-to-day living. For example, Community Health Centers  have already been cut nearly 40 percent in the last five years. We aren’t going to reduce our deficit by more cuts to human needs programs that have already been decimated.

Tianna was vulnerable enough to share her own experiences of having to make these choices in testimony before the Ways and Means Committee of Congress to enumerate to importance of not making cuts to the federal budget; they better listen! How will you do what it takes to make sure Congress remembers that people’s lives are at stake with these budget negotiations?

Unfortunately, Congress is more interested in increasing funding for the defense budget than making sure families like Jahzaire’s and Tianna’s are cared for. Confusing terms, political jargon, and party politics cannot be excuses to ignore the importance of a faithful budget that fully-funds human needs programs for all families who need support from society. We must answer Pope Francis’s call to encounter and stay connected to people and their stories to keep perspective. We must uphold these values as responsible residents of the United States. We must require that our legislators not forget the development and fulfillment of all people in society.

Blog: Putting People First in Our Budget Crisis

Blog: Putting People First in Our Budget Crisis

Rachel Schmidt
Aug 13, 2015

The federal budget is a complicated piece of legislation, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. “Wonky” data, words like “sequestration,” and polarized political parties are enough to make anyone’s eyes glaze over. However, the budget is not merely something elected officials tend to busy themselves with. It is essential to bring about the common good, the development and fulfillment of all people in society, by creating a faithful budget.

Too often in budget negotiations, Congress neglects to bring forth the faces and stories of people who are intimately affected by cuts to human needs programs. It’s easy to get lost in the ideology of politics and deficit reduction, but like Pope Francis insists, “service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.” Therefore, it is critical that we do not lose sight of the real issue:  the federal budget is a tool that must faithfully serve the common good.

The political landscape has made finalization of the federal budget difficult. Initially, the fear was that sequestration would take place. Sequestration means that programs, both on the defense and non-defense discretionary sides of the budget, are automatically cut once previously established budget limits are reached. In theory, sequestration was supposed to be too horrible to go into effect, but in reality, the threat of this austerity measure is becoming more commonplace. In recent years budget negotiations have led to the government shutting down, programs being stopped, and government workers not being paid. It’s these political games that endanger the wellbeing of people in the most vulnerable situations, who rely on safety net programs funded from the non-defense discretionary side of the budget.

Congress had a deadline to approve the Fiscal Year 2016 budget by September 30 in order to keep the government fully operational for the next year. They did not actually come to a final decision by this time. Instead, they passed what’s called a Continuing Resolution (CR) to provide short-term funding through December 11 and put off addressing the real issue of planning for the next fiscal year. Now, as the December deadline approaches, we must be diligent in requiring Congress to commit to funding a faithful budget that serves the common good.

Again, it’s important to remember that a budget is about more than just numbers; it’s about people. To learn more about how this affects real people, watch these two stories from our friends at Witnesses to Hunger:

This story of Jahzaire Sutton shows the stress and impact budget negotiations can have on small children. It is unbelievable that in the United States a mother has to go hungry so her children can eat. Cuts to the program, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) could be disastrous for families like Jahzaire’s. Since 2010, WIC has been cut 17.4%.

Jahzaire’s mother is already skipping meals. Do we want Jahzaire and his younger siblings to go hungry too? As a society, are we willing to do what it takes for the future of our children? When Congress makes a commitment to providing for the common good, people like Jahzaire’s mother won’t have to go hungry anymore.

This story of Tianna Gaines Turner shows how a family could rely upon several programs funded by the government due to economic hardship or medical needs. Cuts across the board can mean that Tianna’s family won’t have access to as many resources for health, utilities, and food, which are necessary for day-to-day living. For example, Community Health Centers  have already been cut nearly 40 percent in the last five years. We aren’t going to reduce our deficit by more cuts to human needs programs that have already been decimated.

Tianna was vulnerable enough to share her own experiences of having to make these choices in testimony before the Ways and Means Committee of Congress to enumerate to importance of not making cuts to the federal budget; they better listen! How will you do what it takes to make sure Congress remembers that people’s lives are at stake with these budget negotiations?

Unfortunately, Congress is more interested in increasing funding for the defense budget than making sure families like Jahzaire’s and Tianna’s are cared for. Confusing terms, political jargon, and party politics cannot be excuses to ignore the importance of a faithful budget that fully-funds human needs programs for all families who need support from society. We must answer Pope Francis’s call to encounter and stay connected to people and their stories to keep perspective. We must uphold these values as responsible residents of the United States. We must require that our legislators not forget the development and fulfillment of all people in society.

Blog: Urgent Budget Update

Blog: Urgent Budget Update

Marge Clark, BVM
Jul 29, 2015

There is real danger of holding human needs funding at very low sequester levels! The House and Senate are stalled on funding for Fiscal Year 2016 – which begins on October 1, 2015. With only eight legislative days in September, they will need to do a temporary funding bill (Continuing Resolution or “CR”) to give them time to figure out the full year. The CR holds funding levels at the current amount for the time designated – likely until December. One huge danger being discussed in Congress is to do a full-year CR – until September 30, 2016. This would be disaster since it would include the low budget caps currently in place. The final funding level for FY2016 will be the baseline used for developing the FY2017 budget. And, that would become the baseline for the 2018 budget. This would lead to each year’s funding becoming less and less!

Sequestration resulted in an across-the-board cut of 8% in 2013. That amount became the baseline for the 2014 budget, but it was to some degree mitigated by the “Murray-Ryan” budget agreement covering the 2014 and 2015 funding levels. However, the continuing low levels are not tenable, and cannot be allowed to go even lower.

Over the last five years, spending cuts have eliminated housing, nutrition, education and other safety-net programs for hundreds of thousands of Americans:

  • Mentoring for Children of Prisoners-ELIMINATED
  • Housing for Persons with Disabilities-CUT 59%
  • Low Income Energy Assistance-CUT 46%
  • Housing for the Elderly-CUT 52%
  • Violence Against Women Act implementation programs-CUT 11%
  • Green Jobs Innovation Fund-ELIMINATED
  • Effective Teaching and Learning in STEM program-ELIMINATED
  • Rural Health programs-CUT 30%
  • HHS Domestic Violence Hotline-CUT 27%
  • Community Health Centers funding-CUT 38%

Continued cuts will cause suffering, and potentially deaths, for members of working families struggling to keep roofs over their heads.

There are two urgent concerns:

  • Members of Congress must work together to make a budget deal to stop sequestration (the budget caps). This needs to be similar to the 2013 agreement by Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray.
  • They cannot resort to a full year Continuing Resolution!

As you communicate with your senators and representatives while they are home in August, it is critical that you tell them how much people would be hurt by sequestration. And, that it is crucial that they do not fall for a full-year CR, as that would set a very low baseline for the next several years’ funding levels.

Keeping an Eye on Appropriations

Keeping an Eye on Appropriations

By Marge Clark, BVM
June 9, 2015

The House and Senate committees are working hard to complete spending bills for FY2015 before the August recess. Multiple appropriations bills are moving simultaneously, with several being critical this week.  As we know, our budget is a moral document—and the appropriations process is where the rubber hits the road. Decisions made during this process will have a huge impact on our nation’s finances and priorities. Take action and email your members of Congress today!

Here are some of the pieces NETWORK is keeping an eye on during the appropriations process:

HOUSING (in T-HUD):

  • Oppose amendments that would further cut housing programs that provide people with a place to live
  • Support amendments that would boost current funding levels, particularly in programs that have already been affected by  sequestration and proposed cuts
    • Restore vouchers lost under sequestration
    • Provide additional funds for homeless assistance grants, to continue the work which is having a positive impact on reduction of family homelessness
    • Eliminate proposed cuts  to  the HOME program, the only current source of acquisition of additional units of housing
    • Eliminate proposed cuts to funding for fair housing and healthy housing that provide for elimination of lead, necessary repairs, and other safety needs in assisted housing.

AGRICULTURE

  • Oppose the rider, currently in the House (and expected in the Senate), that would eliminate the requirement for school meal programs to follow nutrition standards based on solid health science (such as use of whole grains, inclusion of fresh fruits and vegetables)

LABOR, HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES AND EDUCATION

  • Increase funding to account for the new and rapid increase of unaccompanied minors into the U.S. Currently, the emergency need for $2.28 billion additional to provide for these children, who require and deserve the assistance of social services to become reunited with family members, is unaccounted for in the set appropriations. Proposed solutions include either securing the $2.28 billion from outside the appropriations process, as true emergency funding; or from across all appropriations areas.
  • Make no changes that would negatively affect access to healthcare for those relying on provisions of the Affordable Care Act or other government-assisted health care.

HOMELAND SECURITY

  • End the detention bed quota, which arbitrarily mandates that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains 34,000 individuals across the country each day and costs taxpayers over $2 billion each year. For more about the Detention Bed Quota, view these resources from the Detention Watch Network .

Blog: Not Enough Money

Blog: Not Enough Money

Marge Clark, BVM
Jun 01, 2015

The time has come! Time for the Republican leadership to agree to negotiate higher spending caps, in order to meet basic needs of those who struggle to keep a roof over their head and feed themselves and family. The budget resolution has been adopted, with limits suggested for each appropriations (spending) committee. Now, members of those House and Senate committees are trying to find enough money to fund the programs about which they care the most. They are legally bound to stick to the caps established in the Budget Control Act (2011). That act mandates that if the spending cap is exceeded, there would be across-the-board cuts in (almost) all programs in the discretionary spending part of the budget.

When they tried to enforce these caps while working on the fiscal years 2014 and 2015 spending bills, they found they couldn’t do it. They had to pull appropriations bills because they could not figure out how to spread the allotted money across the absolute needs. So, they determined a way to exceed the caps and avoid sequestration by making some well-targeted cuts within most areas (avoiding the hatchet of sequestration) by bringing in enough revenue to meet the absolute needs. The bipartisan negotiation led to an agreement that has come to be known by its authors, Murray and Ryan. But, there were significant cuts in that process.

The new lower amounts became the baseline on which the following year’s funding levels were set. Each successive year brought additional cuts, even as the numbers of people relying on programs increased, and inflation was not taken into account. Some human needs programs are now functioning on less than 30% of their funding level a very few years ago.

The president, in his budget request in February, made an opening for negotiation by buoying up the discretionary spending, and bringing in additional revenue from appropriate sources. It is now time for the Republican leadership to step up and be willing to negotiate on some fair sources of revenue to offset some of the badly needed spending in areas of human needs.

One of our partners, the Coalition on Human Needs, has done a wonderful analysis of 150 human needs programs, tracking their funding levels since 2010. Some of the cuts are horrifying. To give just a few examples:

  • Green Jobs Innovation Fund – cut 100% – eliminated
  • Community Health Centers – cut 38.4%
  • Maternal and child health – cut 13%
  • Rural Health Programs – cut 28.3%
  • Children’s Mental Health – cut 12.8%
  • Voting Access for People with  Disabilities – cut 74.2%
  • Mentoring Children of Prisoners – cut 100% – eliminated
  • Low Income Energy Assistance – cut 45.8

The people of our nation cannot live in dignity, given the sorts of cuts that have been made – to be compounded by continuing to adhere to the BCA, and certainly if sequestration is imposed.

Keep in mind the corporations that multiply their profits, yet pay no income taxes. Consider those who receive tax deductions for multimillion-dollar homes.

Clearly, there is room to negotiate, to find just sources of revenue so those struggling can have a home, can have adequate nutrition, can afford child care so they can work. The list of possible trade-offs is very long. There is room to negotiate!

Blog: NETWORK Participates in Historic Conference on Poverty

Blog: NETWORK Participates in Historic Conference on Poverty

Sarah Spengemen
May 15, 2015

In Washington, we hear politicians on both the left and the right talking every day about “the middle class,” but seldom do they mention the term “poverty.” Political consultants tell candidates that talking about the middle class inspires hope, while talking about poverty sounds too gloomy—people just don’t want to hear it they say.  At NETWORK, we know that the political consultants are wrong, people are hungry for change in this country and they are looking for leaders. This week we were able to participate in a conference held at Georgetown University on “Overcoming Poverty,” which aimed to change the national conversation so that we can begin to address our current reality—45 million Americans living in poverty today.

What was unique about this conference was that it intentionally brought together over one hundred Catholic and Evangelical faith leaders from around the country to talk about how to get poverty on the national agenda, and also to identify real solutions to poverty that all of us, progressives and conservatives alike, could support.  NETWORK was privileged to be invited to this unique conference and to contribute to the dialogue about how we can end the scandal of millions of Americans who remain in poverty despite living in the wealthiest nation on earth.

The conference was organized by Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and the National Association of Evangelicals and was inspired by the recent book by social scientist Robert Putnam on child poverty and social mobility in America entitled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. Putnam spoke to us the first night of the conference, and he described an America today that is dramatically changed from the America of his youth.

Americans, Putnam argues, used to think of all of the kids in the community as “our kids,” and our public investments showed that. We invested in after-school programs, in public parks and recreation centers, in our elementary schools and in our universities. We knew that the success of the whole community depended on the success of every child.  And in the years between World War II and the early 1970s it was entirely possible to be born into a poor family, but to grow up to find a job that would pay you enough to join the ranks of the middle class and to support your family. Children born in the 1950s and 60s were able to break out of poverty and to achieve the “American Dream.” Not so today.  In his book and at the conference, Putnam says that the statistics and the stories tell us that kids today born into poverty are likely to remain in poverty. We as a community have stopped investing in them as young people, and as wages have stagnated and unions have declined, there very few opportunities for them to escape poverty as adults.

The next morning Robert Putnam was joined by President Barack Obama and Arthur Brooks for a conversation about poverty facilitated by E.J. Dionne. First of all, it is highly unusual for a sitting president to participate in a panel discussion, but for those of us who have been watching Obama closely for the past decade, we also know that it is unusual for the President to speak out so boldly about poverty. Hearing him do so was very encouraging.

The President called out an “anti-government ideology” for disinvesting in our communities and for consistently blocking new investments. He said that our current budgets show our unwillingness to make the investments that are proven to lift people out of poverty: “You look at state budgets, you look at city budgets, and you look at federal budgets, and we don’t make those same common investments that we used to.  And it’s had an impact.  And we shouldn’t pretend that somehow we have been making those same investments.  We haven’t been.  And there’s been a very specific ideological push not to make those investments.”

He went on to say that until we are willing to talk seriously about raising revenues, about making sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share, until then, we are not serious about addressing poverty in this nation: “That’s where the question of compassion and ‘I’m my brother’s keeper’ comes into play.  And if we can’t ask from society’s lottery winners to just make that modest investment, then, really, this conversation is for show.” Also encouraging was hearing Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, who was also on the panel, call on conservatives to “declare peace on the safety net.”  But as Obama pointed out, we need to be able to pay for those programs and the only way is through a more equitable tax system.

Later that same evening we were privileged to hear from Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who spoke with passion about mass incarceration in the United States. We are not the land of the free, he declared, when we have only 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. He said he is making it his mission while he is a Senator to end mass incarceration as we know it in the United States. He is hopeful that we can do this and we can do this soon, but he asked for the support of the faith leaders present at the conference and for us to reach out to our networks. He challenged us by affirming that it is people of faith who should be the leaders of the movement to end a racist institution that destroys lives and breaks up families.

The following day’s sessions were an opportunity for participants to dialogue about what we, as leaders coming from the Catholic and Evangelical traditions and as progressives and conservatives, could agree on in terms of a common agenda. Everyone at the conference agreed that the visit of Pope Francis to the United States and his speech to Congress will be a watershed moment and will create more opportunity than we have had in a decade to talk about poverty at the national level. We also all agreed to use the 2016 election to get candidates to debate solutions to poverty. We as people of faith need to insist that candidates explain specifically how they plan to reduce the poverty rate by half during their term in office. We also agreed on a legislative agenda, knowing that even in this very partisan climate, we can get representatives on both side of the aisle to agree on a plan to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

Our time hearing from and being able to dialogue with faith leaders on the issue of poverty at the Georgetown conference gave us at NETWORK great hope that we will make progress and that there is a brighter future for the most vulnerable members of our nation. We know that it will not be easy, but we also know that people of faith have historically been leaders of all the great reform movements in our history from abolition, to the Progressive Era, to civil rights. We can do it again and we will.